“Sound by nature brings people together and also separates them,” believes VIVIAN CACCURI. This observation underpins the Brazilian multimedia artist’s work throughout many of her installations and is perhaps best represented by the recurring event that marks much of her career thus far – The Silent Walk.
Lasting a total of eight hours, the walk, as the name suggests, means there is a verbal ban for walkers and witnesses for the entire duration. The effect of this, Caccuri explains, is to engage more fully in a sensory way with one’s surroundings whilst moving through the city. “I think you see more, you listen more. People smile more, they do a lot of eye contact.” Communication with others also changes. “It’s a very mellow way of communicating and it builds a lot of intimacy,” she reflects. “I think that’s why being silent is so scary. Intimacy happens more easily, and sometimes people don’t want that to happen. Maybe that’s why we talk so much. It’s to build a wall or a screen of language to keep you at your position and the other at his.”
Walkers and witnesses also come face to face with art installations created by Caccuri. “They usually have some sort of sound activity,” she shares, “or a performance that we can gaze upon.” The distinction between walkers and witnesses, performers and pedestrians, can be blurry. “There was once a parkour,” she says with a smile, “and he was great. He blended in and no one could tell that he was a performer. He was jumping through the walls and doing a lot of amazing things that would completely change our perspective of what is going on.”
Growing up with an Italian grandmother who also was a pianist and a percussionist grandfather, Caccuri speaks as if it was inevitable that she would end up experimenting with sound. Calling herself a musical person, she describes family gatherings as a kind of catharsis. “I started collecting music tapes and recordings when I was nine or ten, initiated by a cousin, and I always felt the need to express myself through sound, music and dance.” She speaks of how art college only served to foster this passion further with many a class paired with the musicians. “We had a lot of exchange and my first works were naturally musical somehow – performative – so I’m always dealing with that kind of expression.”
Whilst conversing with Cacurri, it immediately becomes clear that the silent walks are where her passion lies. Conceptualizing these installations in 2012, Cacurri has created walks have across Brazil’s major urban centers – Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo – as well as the Amazonian city of Manaus and European countries Latvia and Finland. Although each walk is unique she observes fundamental similarities across these places. “I think the tension is the same. The initial tension of starting to walk in silence – people get immediately alert and after a while, they relax. In some places it takes more time than others, of course, because the tours are different.” In Helsinki, she recalls with a laugh, the cultural stereotype of Finnish people being shy or silent amused the group: “We had a lot of jokes about that. Why are you doing this? This is what you are known for everyday!”
The selection process for the walks are simple. An open call is posted online and the first 20 people to sign up are chosen, leading to diverse groups with every walk. Cacurri notices others’ attraction to the walk. This, she believes, is due to the very nature of the experience. “I think silence is the perfect platform for artistic expression and creativity. We also have architects and musicians – people that are interested in the city as some sort of fabric.” Those who undertake the walk more than once intrigue her: “When I see these people [come] back, I think it worked for them somehow. I guess when they want more, I am on the right path, and they are usually very interesting people!”
Speaking on how her participants respond to this silence, Caccuri is thoughtful. “When the walk ends, we finish with a dinner and speak again. It’s very hysterical because people are holding onto their words for so long and they want to share.” Believing the face is not a good indicator of what one feels, Caccuri’s dinner provides a great outlet to discover and discuss feelings about the walk. “You can’t read [expressions] perfectly, it’s not a sign of what they are thinking because the expressions go together with how you pronounce words. Without words, the face looks lost.” However, there are other indicators that enable her to get a sense of enjoyment participants experience: “When they are responding positively, meaning that they are comfortable and feeling safe. When they are not tense. They tend to move around with a clear goal by touching things. They are experimenting, gazing and looking.”
The ultimate result for many undertaking the walk is what Caccuri describes as a trance although she is quick to point out the difference between this and meditation. “It’s the opposite. Meditation is organized and makes you empty [of] what is going on inside of you. In this work, you get completely dirty. It’s disturbing and people get very tired by the end of it, not because of the walking but because of the emotional effort that you have to put in.” Cacurri is completely against the silent retreat – calling it isolating and elitist – so anyone thinking that the common silence between the two practices leads to the same experience would be mistaken. “That doesn’t mean anything to me. It doesn’t make you grow in any way. I prefer the chaos – struggling through the chaos with your ears is more constructive. It builds more strength than just being inside of a tower like a princess of something,” she states with a laugh. The chaos is underpinned by a particularly interesting theory. “Many say that the way we listen nowadays only started after we stopped listening to God as if it was a real voice. Then we started to have our own internal voices. Here there’s a new voice at play.”
Caccuri calls the walks a kind of lab that she uses to develop artistic ideas. Performing the walks in different geographical sites is particularly exciting for the development of her work. “Not knowing the place and seeing completely different patterns of behaving is very rich,” she reflects whilst admitting that it requires intense organising. “You have to have a method to make it happen.” Caccuri takes both creative and practical ideas from each group, describing a number of materials that she has collected from the walks over the past four years. “Whilst walking on the street and facing new situations, I find materials I can work with- things I can record, objects and situations that inspire me to create forms. I’m working with screen material to protect pedestrians from construction sites. I found this mini-system radio from the 90s and I hacked it with the help of an engineer to put ten more radio transmitters inside. I was thinking of how we can blow out all the borders between the stations and play them all at once.”
However, such rich findings also means that Cacurri is spying her next set of installations with a focus on sound design. “This year is the last year of the silent walk. It’s been four years and 32 walks, so I have a lot of material,” she explains. When asked what’s prompting the end, she replies simply: Time. “I’ve been dedicated to this since 2012, and if I want to create sound, I need that time. It’s simple math – I need to hear, and to hear, I need more time.” She delights in the thought of someone else taking up the mantle, adding: “I’m trying to find a new way of letting it go. The last ones will be absolutely group led. I will not be the only one leading it, it will be group led.”
Earlier this month, Cacurri and other artists visiting Accra joined ACCRA [dot] ALT Co-Director, Mantse Aryeequaye, in a special musical session entitled “High Lives/Hip Realities”. The event took place as part of a series of Study Days happening between March and May 2016, in the cities of Santiago, Accra, Lamas and Cuiabá, forming part of the research for the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo. The Study Days inaugurate the Bienal’s public activities and provide a guide for the artistic and curatorial processes leading up to the exhibition in September 2016.
South African artist Gabi Ngcobo heads the visiting team and is the first Black curator of the Bienal. Each of the four Study Days nurture the investigative journey towards São Paulo, proposing specific locations as points of departure. Accra is a point of return for Brazilian slaves, a site of passages, projections and collective dreaming. “High Lives/Hip Realities” took place in ADA’s artspace @ Brazil House and included a discussion about the magical realism of highlife music as well as performances by Wanlov the Kubolor and Gyedu Blay-Ambolley.
Cacurri’s recent trip to Accra has clearly been inspiring. It is her first time visiting the continent, citing this travel as the most profound part of her career so far. “I like building things, collecting things, and when people want to engage – whenever that happens, it’s a great moment. That’s why I’m here, I’m [in Accra] precisely to collaborate on a new project for São Paulo in September. I’m trying to transmit sounds from Accra to Brazil that will play live in the Bienal. I want to see what’s possible,” she says with excitement. The silent walks may be coming to an end, but Caccuri will clearly be translating her passion into new soundscapes, now with a Ghanaian twist.